Wednesday, November 11, 2015

I look forward each year to Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead.  I have begun to think, however, that it should be re-named Semana de Muertos, Week of the Dead, as the activities surrounding it, La Calaca Festival, and the slowly-encroaching Halloween, now take up nearly a week.

UU picnic, Wed., Oct. 28 - Although this fun gathering of 20+ members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Miguel de Allende in the back garden of St. Paul's Lutheran Church, had absolutely nothing to do with D of the D or Halloween, I could not resist bringing these charmingly-decorated cupcakes from my favorite bakery as my contribution to the pot-luck lunch.  I was amazed at how very like linen wrappings the beige icing on the mummies was, and little red eyes peeking out.

For entertainment, we first had door prizes, with colored dots on the chairs of some, including mine.  I won a small bottle of petite syrah.  Then we were given a sheet of 20 or so Mexican idioms to see how many we could translate into English.  I am proud to say that I was in a tie for first place with a friend of mine, Roger, with only two unknown, and I was the only one in the group who knew the meaning of "media naranja," directly translated as half an orange, but which idiomatically means, "my better half."  The prize was a dinner with the fellowship's president and her partner, so Roger and I went and had a lovely meal and visit.

Practicing English with Mexican students of English at UNAM, Thurs., Oct. 29 - Every Thursday at 11 a.m., I, along with three other gringos, spend an hour in conversation with a varying number of students of English at the conclusion of their class.  That day, several of them were constructing an altar, a tradition of D of the D, in this case to Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. 

In their class, they had written calaveritas in English, rhyming and often funny poems about someone living or they could be about famous deceased.  They shared them with us and we helped them think of rhyming words.  I challenged myself to write some, and I did, three in English and three in Spanish, however, I misunderstood and thought they were to be for someone recently deceased.  Mine rhymed some of the time, but were definitely not funny, as I wrote of my feelings about the murder of Dee Ropers, a gringa, just a few days before. 

La Calaca Danzante (The Dancing Skull) at the Angela Peralta Theater (steps from my apartment), Thurs., Oct. 29 - I really like belly dancing, and here was my chance to see professional troupes from various cities in the U.S. and a local group from Estudio de Libélula.  It was nearly impossible to take photos of them because their bodies were in perpetual motion.  Because it was so close to D of the D weekend, they all wore Catrina faces.  It was probably the best performance of this dance form that I'd ever seen.

Happily, I was able to capture some of them at rest with my camera afterwards in the lobby.

"The Catrina was originally an engraving by José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913).  Before being called Catrina, the image of a skeleton wearing a showy hat was called "La Calavera Garbancera," and it was a representation of Mexicans of indigenous roots who were chickpea sellers and pretended to have European roots, and although they were poor, they wanted to show a life-style that they did not have.  In the engraving, the skeleton is nude because it is also a reference to the poverty that Mexicans were living in at that time.

"Muralist Diego Rivera took the image of the Calavera Garbancera and in his mural entitled 'Dream of a dominical afternoon in the Alameda,' he painted the calavera and dressed it up with showy dresses and called her for the first time, 'Catrina.'  The image mocked the high class during the Porfirato era (1876-1911)."  (Atención, Oct. 31, 2014)

A potluck lunch, followed by a game of Rummycubes, followed by costume parties, Fri., Oct. 30 - It was my turn to host the weekly Rummycubes game I participate in, and since one of the players, Peter, was off immediately afterwards to a Halloween party, he brought his costume, and then I had to put mine on, too.  I bought this jacket that zips up from my waist all the way to the top of my head in Guanajuato last year when I was there for Cervantino (the Cervantes Festival).  In case you can't tell, Peter was going as a boxer.

I find it quite humorous that my glasses protrude from the eye holes in the jacket.  Because they were the only openings when I bought it, I had to get my seamstress to open up the mouth, also, as my glasses got steamed up when I breathed if it was cold. Definitely not a problem this year, as the temperatures all weekend were unseasonably warm.  I think I glow in the dark in this costume, too.

Costume party at my friend, Susan's, Fri., Oct. 30 - Susan is a big fan of dressing up, and so every year she throws a Halloween costume party.  I wore the skeleton jacket, although it was much too hot to zip up all the way, and Susan went as Miss Z Bra, a famous stripper, with a little help from a pillow.  I'll let you work that one out by yourself.

In the jardin, Fri., Oct. 30 - Since the party started and ended early, I made my way up to the jardin to catch the D of the D action there.  This catrín and catrina were on stilts!

Face painters were doing a brisk business.  I saw more this year than ever before.  At 100 pesos (about $6.00 USD) a clip, these enterprising folks were making some serious money this weekend.

I admired this well-turned out foursome,

and this little charmer.

People of all ages are so into this!

Visiting the mercado de alfeñiques at Plaza Civica, Sat., Oct. 31 -  Every year, in the same spot, dozens of vendors of alfeñiques set up shop to provide components for the altars to deceased loved ones that virtually everyone sets up in their homes, offices, stores, or in public spaces.  Alfeñiques are folk art objects made from sugar paste, which originated in Italy, but which were brought to Mexico from Spain along with Catholicism by the conquistadores, where they became part of D of the D, starting around the 17th or 18th centuries.  Alfeñiques (the word comes from Arabic) replaced the Aztec tradition of making figurines out of amaranth for altars.  One of the main production centers for these alfeñiques figures is in Guanajuato, the state in which San Miguel is located.

Of course, lots of other altar essentials, home decorations, and costume elements are also sold there.

This fellow is made from dried corn husks.

Back at the jardin, I couldn't resist taking a photo of this lovely lady with her three chihuahuas, all dressed up for the occasion.  I met her again that evening in yet other outfits for herself and the dogs.

And the face painting business was picking up even more.

There wasn't enough going on in town that evening, so they scheduled a bull-fight, a somewhat rare event these days, and used this unusual method to advertise it.

Burro rides went round and round the jardin,

which was looking especially festive, planted with cempasuchil (flor de muertos) - marigolds.

Food vendors were having a very good day.  This one is selling homemade ice cream.

And the mariachi were looking forward to a busy evening.

And what would any fiesta day in the jardin be without a mojiganga, a huge papier-mâché puppet?

I found this sight of children seemingly imprisoned in Starbucks particularly compelling.

Taking in the La Calaca Festival in Parque Juarez, Sat., Oct. 31 - The La Calaca Festival is in its third year and its mission is to keep alive the practices of Day of the Dead in San Miguel.  Each year it sponsors new and different events to that end.  

"Calaca" is a colloquial Spanish name for "skelton," and is a figure of a skull or skeleton (usually human) commonly used for decoration during the Mexican Day of the Dead festival.  Calacas are frequently shown with marigold flowers.  They are often shown wearing festive clothing, dancing, and playing musical instruments.  This draws on the Mexican belief that no dead soul likes to be thought of sadly, and that death should be a joyous occasion.  This goes back to Aztec beliefs, one of the few traditions to remain after the Spanish conquest."  (Wikipedia)

"The elaborate depiction of skeletons involved in everyday activities are never macabre but a reaffirmation of life and a triumphant snub against the inevitability of its passing."  (Atención, Oct. 31, 2014)

As I made my way to the park, I admired many of the tiendas (stores) which were decorated for the holiday with marigolds.

Even this very upscale hotel -- complete with doorman -- got into the spirit.

This unique display was in the entrance to a restaurant.

I couldn't resist this shot.  Even the flower seller can afford a cell phone.  Well, hoorary for that!

When I reached Parque Juarez, I was immediately swept up into the arts and crafts tables.  I have seen hundreds of decorative skulls over my years here, but none, I must admit, with a Mohawk.

Then it was on to the piece de resistance of La Calaca Festival, and my main reason for coming to the park:  El Pirámide de Muertos (Pyramid of Dead Ones), sited just next to a basketball court.  (This type of juxtaposition here no longer surprises me.)

It was actually quite tall,

and still a work in progress.

It featured framed homenajes to the recently deceased, like B.B. King, 

E.L. Doctorow,

and Indian BKS Iyengar, who is responsible for bringing yoga as we know it to the West.

And to the not so recently deceased.

Some were light-hearted.

Some were to promote causes, like Colectiva 41, a drop-in center for LGBT youth.

This was shrouded by a curtain, and when the wind blew, I snapped a photo, but I haven't a clue what it is about.

I continued walking around the park and saw the first and only face painter who provided a plastic shoulder covering and headband to protect clothes and hair.

Then I came across this very talented artist making a drawing on the sidewalk for tips.

In this shot, you can get a better look at it and his talent.

More talent was evident with an exhibition of huge photos.

Then I just walked around the park, snapping photos.  I thought that the bright orange that these palm fronds turned as they died was quite suitable to the season.

A woman was jogging up a marigold-lined path.  Because so many of the flowers had been trampled, the aroma of the marigolds was very strong.  It is an odor that I find pleasant and evocative.

I couldn't resist one last face-painting shot.  This one appeared to me like looking into a mirror with their identical hair-dos and painted faces.

Then on my way back home, I saw some other nicely-decorated shops.

And a breathtakingly-beautiful shot up Calle Aldama.

This may be my favorite altar of the year, and the figure of the peasant making it certainly fooled me.

At dusk, I donned my skeleton jacket once again and took my bag of non-candy treats (balloons, barrettes, pens, play money, erasers, etc.) up to the jardin to give to the children who have now embraced Halloween, much to the distress of many Mexicans, and come there in costume, this one a mother/daughter act.

Some of them go all out.

You could have your photo taken with this ghoul.

Art Walk and Altar Viewing at Fábrica Aurora, Oct. 31 - Every year for D of the D, Fábrica Aurora, a former textile mill just on the edge of El Centro, now re-purposed as artist studios and galleries and a few restaurants, invites the public in for drinks and snacks -- and hopefully shopping.  The artists put up their own personal altars, and it draws huge crowds of costumed lookers.

The first thing visitors see when they enter is a colossal altar, done each year by the same man, a former textile worker, I believe, which lifts up some aspect of the mill workers' lives.  This night's tribute was to a band that the workers had.  That's a model of our chief architectural wonder, the parroquia, on the left.

Then I just joined the throngs walking around and gawking at the art, the altars, and some pretty outlandishly dressed characters.  What fun!

I got fooled by this, too, from afar.

The next two are sobering.  This is an altar to Dee Ropers created by the recently-deceased woman's friends in her own studio at the Fábrica.  She had been murdered a few days earlier.  Rumors swirl.  We'll probably never know the truth of what happened.

And this is an altar to honor the 50th anniversary of the 24-Hour Association, a membership group which is legally able to act as the next-of-kin of a deceased foreigner, dealing with the remains, following the deceased's previously indicated wishes as to burial, cremation, etc., and securing death certificates, a notoriously difficult document to get in a timely fashion.  

The list of the names at the left of the altar is only those whom the organization has served in 2015.  I knew several of the people on that list.  I am a member of this organization, which spares grieving family members, who may not even have a passport, the agony of getting to San Miguel and dealing with the government around the demise of their loved one within 24 hours of the death, as bodies here must either be in the ground or cremated within that time period.

Altar at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Miguel de Allende, as part of the service of remembrance on Nov. 1 - 

Afterwards I attended yet another arts and crafts fair, watched over by these mojigangas.

I never miss an opportunity to stop by the altar in the courtyard of the fabulous store, Camino Silvestre (the Wild Way), owned by friends of my daughter and son-in-law.  Their store is centered on birds and butterflies, and each year they out-do themselves with their altar.  Unfortunately you can't see them in this photo, but there are hundreds of folded paper colibri (hummingbirds) hanging by filament from the ceiling as part of the altar.

I think you can see some of them from this angle (they are light green).

That evening, there was more merriment in the jardin.

I'm not sure what this is about in front of a restaurant, but lots of people were having their pictures taken with it.

As darkness fell, students were lighting hundreds of candles as part of their public altar.

And the parroquia served as back-drop to a stage for a catrina parade and musical entertainment, and papel picado (cut paper) flapped in the breeze.

Visit to the one of the local cemeteries on Day of the Dead, Nov. 2  
It has become my much-loved custom to go with a friend for breakfast to a place called Los Bisquets, very close to the cemetery, then buy flowers as we walk with hundreds of others to the graveyard.  We headed right for the gringo side to place our flowers on some of the graves of the extranjeros (foreigners) who have gone before us, some of whom I knew.

This very beautifully decorated grave is that of Toller Cranston, former Canadian Olympic medalist figure skater who revolutionized the form, and more recently painter, interior decorator, writer, illustrator, costume designer, choreographer, and bon vivant.  He died here this year at age 65.

For the first time, I saw a newly-dug grave, and it was for someone from my congregation who had died the day before.

Linda, the woman with whom I went the the cemetery this year, spent a lot of time artistically decorating this grave of a person she didn't know because it had not a single flower placed on it and she wanted to remedy that.

All of the time we were here, we could hear the amplified voice of a priest conducting a mass and the occasional strains of a mariachi band hired by a family for the occasion.

The Mexicans believe that Monarch butterflies, which migrate from the colder places in eastern North America to Mexico starting about now, represent the souls of the dead who are coming back to visit on this one special day of the year, and darned if I didn't see several Monarchs flitting among the gravestones.

We met friends, stopped to talk, shed a few tears, used up all of our flowers, and then headed over to the Mexican side for a very different experience.  Restraint is not a word one would use for what one encounters here.

You can see the crush of people who have come to pay their respects to their departed loved ones.

That evening, as the festivities wound up, I made one last pass by the jardin to view more of the public altars, this one to a beloved newspaper seller, nicknamed Tambula, whom I well remember from my first few years here.  He was a bear of a man with an incredible bass baritone voice.

And to see the last of the catrinas until next year's Día de Muertos.

If you liked this blog, perhaps you would enjoy some of my others:
Elderhostel trip to Alaska (2005):
Elderhostel trip to Copper Canyon in Mexico (2008):
My first winter (2009) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
My second winter (2010) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
My third winter (2011) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
My first autumn (2011) in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico:
My fourth winter in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (2012):
A trip to Chiapas, Mexico, with Vagabundos (2013):
A trip to Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico, for the annual Palm Sunday artisans festival (2013):
My trip to the state of Hidalgo, Mexico, with the Audubon Society (2013):
My tip to Morocco (2014):
Day of the Dead in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (2014):
My South African safari (2015):
Tour of South Africa after the safari (2015):
Dead of the Dead in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico (2016):

A Trip to See a Tree (2017):

What a Storm! (2017):